Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Panama Canal Gets a Boob Job

If that made you look it says something about us both. But how freakin’ boring does it sound to say Panama Canal Gets Breast Augmentation? Of course, then it’s all downhill from there.

It’s actually an interesting story. Not, perhaps, the way I’ll tell it. But if you’ll suspend your judgment and just pretend everything I’m saying is somehow magically fascinating then you’ll be fascinated…See? Smile and you’ll be happy, that sort of thing.

Let’s see…Read this part quickly and I might be able to hang on to you… Nigh on 100 year ago, back in a simpler time, there was some diggin’. I guess it goes back farther than that, to two French attempts that ended in disease and failure. The United States took over the Panama Canal project in 1904, and completed it in 1914. Here is an interesting perception of the US from that time, surprising given the opinion of the US throughout the World today:

“It is to the lasting credit of the Americans that they have turned a pest-hole into one of the healthiest places on the continent. The mosquito has been banished, yellow fever is now unheard of, and the death-rate of the Isthmus is lower than that of the average American city. Not only has the health of the men making the canal been cared for, but a revolution has been effected in the sanitary arrangements of the cities and towns of the Isthmus. This is an accomplishment more creditable to the American Government than any mere engineering feat could be. A civilised state could show its greatness in no better manner than by taking this wide and humane view of its responsibilities.”
-"The Magellan Times", 8-VII-1914

Yes, we were cool back then. A real get up and go spirit. The canal afforded us the opportunity to increase trade and for our navy to more easily and effectively patrol both sides of our continent. It proved invaluable during WWII. Yes it was a tad bit empirialistic. But if you’re going to be a bitch, be a bitch with style. It really was the friendliest face of empirialism ever known.

Well, time passed, this, that and the other thing happened. People got angry because we parked our military in the middle of their country and took all the money from the canal…we had to give it back. We still get to use it. But we just can’t own it. Thanks Jimmy Carter for being all moral and ethical.

OK…I feel like I’m losing you. I’m trying to avoid as many of the boring facts and dates as possible: Like 1977 when Carter signed the treaty with Panamanian President Omar Torrijos, agreeing to give back the canal by the year 2000, Or the invasion of Panama to oust the dangerous dictator Manuel Noriega who apparently declared war against the United States and was always invading other countries like he invaded uh…hmmm…like…and…well… somebody said he was dangerous that’s good enough for me. After all, we were all of a sudden tired of paying him to be our ally and letting him sell dope. And who knew him better than the former head of the CIA who signed his checks. Thanks George Sr.

Now, I ask you, where is the style in that?

I bet, assuming you’ve read this far, you’re wondering “why is this fella’telling me all this stuff about some old ditch in Panama?” No, it has nothing to do with Van Halen.

I know I should be talking about the royal wedding more. I know I should be worried about North Korea, because John Bolton assures us we need to bomb Iran to stop North Korea…did I say that right? Yes, that was it. But for those who have already left us and our little story, they’re about to miss the exciting part. Well…at least slightly thrilling…or if neither of those, at least it’s important... and relevant.

You see, the Panama Canal was a game changer, in more ways than one. It was, whatever your political views as to correctness, an indicator of the United States’ hemispherical superiority (I’m assuming you know what I mean by that). It represented the unified approach of American business, its social and its political interests, while at it’s inception providing us with a positive image in the World. It profited us in almost every way and paid for itself many, many, many times over.

But time marches on. Now it comes to pass that shipping has changed dramatically, populations have grown and China is quickly becoming the fastest growing market on the whole planet. They are competing with us in trade overseas, and here on our own shores. They are seeking out partnerships with countries, competing with us for petroleum and stealing our valuable shoe making jobs (now that joke would have been funny, in a rude sort of way, about ten years ago. But now they’re making more than just tennis shoes and firecrackers). Even though a good many of the products that are made in China have come under fire for safety reasons, creative property theft, patent infringement and more, they are selling boatloads, yes, boatloads. Now that brings us to the canal.

Americans consume…we thirst and hunger and devour the Earth. We want more and more and more. The size of the ships heading out from Asia has grown. They can’t fit through the Panama Canal anymore. So here comes the boob job. It actually isn’t a boob job at all, of course. But it’s a make over at least. The Panama Canal is being increased in size to let the big ships through (do an Internet search if you’re interested in the details, too many to hit here). So goods that normally would have been dropped at a port in California can now “steam” right on over to the East Coast and cut out the West Coast railroads. Hmmm. Now that could be a game changer. And just as we are looking to upgrade our railroads and thinking high speed commuter trains, there comes an industry shift. It doesn’t necessarily mean the West Coast railroads will drop out of the game. They have foreseen the change and are trying to strike deals to lower their rates and keep their business. But East Coast railroads, trucking companies and ports are gearing up to receive the possible increase in traffic. No one can say for sure what might happen.

Then, being the Liberal tree hugger that I am, I have to bring up the Northwest Passage, the shipping route above Canada which, up until the effects of global warming, froze and became impassable in the winter months. That might seem like a benefit of global warming. Obviously I’m not allowed to say there are any benefits though, because ultimately global warming will cause so many serious problems we can’t praise it. I will just assume you’re intelligent enough to know that. Although these waterways are increasingly passable they give rise to other issues. Canada claims the waters to be Canadian, while America claims them to be international. What are you going to do? It’s all part of an uncertainty in near future trading that will change things. Some people will argue that it has to be great for the American consumer because it will mean cheaper goods. We’ve been hearing that for a while. How’s that working for everyone?

As for Alabama, we won’t see much change directly. The port of Mobile has already grown rapidly and Mobile Bay can’t handle the size ships we’re talking about anyway. Indirectly, as our economy heats up, who can say? The Chinese sell their goods faster and cheaper, then Chinese consumers have more money to spend on cars, then the Chinese secure more agreements with petroleum rich countries, then we go to the Conoco down the street and pay an extra couple of dollars for gas because of supply and demand, and speculators.

Things are changing. Our leaders lack the strategic foresight and vision of leaders past. So what do we do? The American consumers can do what they do so well. Bitch! We can’t help it. It’s part of our heritage. The best we can do about that is, if we’re going to be a bitch, for God’s sake, let’s be a bitch with style.

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